New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SIMPSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-028-001, Claim No. 106806


Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
BY: Kevan Acton, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 12, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

The events giving rise to this claim began on May 10, 2002, at Clinton Correctional Facility. At trial of the action, Claimant testified that on the day in question, he worked for 12 hours in the mess hall (from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.). Sometime during that day, his radio — a “Model 88" that had cost $164.00 – was stolen from his cell. He immediately informed the A Gallery officer, who said that he would advise the Block Sergeant of the theft. The following day, May 11, Claimant received a tip on the whereabouts of his radio and conveyed that information to the mess hall Sergeant.
On the 11th, Claimant was working the chow line in the mess hall, but he was removed quickly when a dispute arose after an inmate named Castelanno came in. Correction Officer Ludwig, who advised Claimant to take the day off and “chill,” escorted him back to his cell. When he arrived on the cellblock, he noted that all of the porters had left. He lay on the cot in his cell, with his head near the bars, to take a nap. While he was sleeping, someone threw hot oil on him, burning him badly. He wrote a note for someone to give to an officer to come to his assistance and estimated that he had to wait, in agony, for almost 30 minutes before help arrived. Claimant suffered second degree burns to the right side of his face, top of his head, the right side of his neck, right shoulder (front and back), right hand, and in three places on his left forearm (Exhibit 1). It was evident from several of Claimant’s comments that he thought the assailant was Castelanno.
Correction Officer Jeff Ludwig testified that at some time on May 10, 2002 he was made aware that a radio had been stolen. His account of Claimant’s removal from the chow line differed somewhat from that given by Claimant. He stated, both at trial and in a memorandum written approximately fifteen months after the incident (Exhibit 6),
that he had ordered Claimant to leave the line and escorted him back to his cell after Claimant began accusing various other inmates of having stolen his radio causing tensions to build. No misbehavior reports were issued, but Officer Ludwig determined that there was potential for a fight and that Claimant needed to be removed for his own safety.
Correction Officer Jeffrey White testified that he was informed of the injuries to Claimant when another inmate passed a note to him, at approximately 11:05 p.m. on May 11. He immediately went to Claimant’s cell, observed the extensive burns and, after notifying the Sergeant in charge of the area, escorted Claimant to the hospital. White’s testimony was consistent with a statement that he wrote to the Sergeant on the night of the incident (Exhibit 5).
The State of New York has a duty to protect inmates in its custody against foreseeable harm, including a foreseeable risk of assault by other inmates, but it is not an insurer of inmate safety (Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562 [3d Dept 1985]). The duty requires the State to use reasonable care to protect against risks of which it was aware or should have been aware (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247 [2002]).
Although there is no doubt that Claimant was burned very badly and painfully, in the manner he describes, he has failed to present any evidence to support a conclusion that prison officials knew, or should have known, that an attack of this nature might happen. Even if, as Claimant suspects, the attack was a result of the confrontation between him and Castelanno, there was nothing to suggest that such a violent attack was a foreseeable consequence.
Inasmuch as Claimant failed to prove, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the State was negligent in providing for Claimant’s safety or that any negligence on the State’s part was a proximate cause of his injuries, Claim No. 106806 is dismissed.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 12, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. His reason for writing the memorandum 15 months later was not explained.